Harvard Health Letter

Afib cases increasing; pay attention to underlying health conditions

Atrial fibrillation (afib) is affecting far more people than it did 50 years ago, according to a study published July 11, 2015, in The Lancet. Afib is an irregular heartbeat that makes the heart's upper chambers (the atria) quiver, rather than pump steadily. This can lead to the formation of blood clots, which can travel in the blood to the brain and cause a stroke. The Lancet study found that afib cases quadrupled from 1958 to 2007 among 9,500 people. But there is some encouraging news: the study also found that the risk of stroke associated with afib decreased 74% in the last 50 years, and the risk of death decreased 25%.

Why the ups and downs? Researchers point to epidemics of obesity and diabetes as part of the reason, as well as increased awareness of the condition and better detection methods. Meanwhile, improved recognition and treatment of other diseases, such as high blood pressure, may be helping to reduce the cases of stroke and early death linked to afib. So, this study provides further evidence of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and keeping blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol under control. In addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other illnesses, you also reduce the risk of getting afib and developing complications from it.